Music Producer Career Information
M usic producers can play an incredibly important role in the music industry. But you may not have a clear sense of the answer to "What does a music producer do?" So, to get you started, here are a few examples.
What Does a Music Producer Do?
In the case of George Martin, he signed a little band called The Beatles and helped them destroy the perceived boundaries of what a rock and roll album should sound like. Butch Vig helped Kurt Cobain work through his doubts and insecurities and was a mentor to him during the recording of Nevermind (which is still a worldwide obsession today—more than 20 years since it first hit the shelves). Dr. Dre almost single-handedly created the West Coast rap genre and became instrumental in starting, maintaining, or bringing back the careers of such artists as 2Pac, Snoop Dogg, and Eminem.
And last, but certainly not least, Todd Rundgren helped to create Meatloaf's best-selling album Bat Out of Hell. (Many people would hate to think of a world where "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" didn't exist to belt out on long drives.)
What are the Job Responsibilities for a Music Producer?
In their simplest form, the typical job responsibilities for a music producer could be loosely classified as project management. Some of the specific duties can include:
- Coaching musicians through studio processes
- Helping musicians choose songs to be recorded
- Overseeing recording sessions
- Mixing and mastering songs
- Managing budgets, schedules, and negotiations
Music producers also need to have musical abilities themselves. Like writers or painters, musicians can become too close to their art and "miss the obvious," so to speak. A music producer can bring a fresh perspective to a song and often makes tweaks to the arrangement or composition—which can make the difference between a mediocre song and a great song. Music producers can even become involved in the songwriting process, since many artists finish existing songs or even write new songs in the studio.
The duties of a music producer can also include more technical jobs. They must be capable of working with various technologies, including:
- Music-related computer software applications
- Outboard sound effects gear (compressors, equalizers, reverbs)
- Reference monitors
- Mixing boards
- Recording devices
Some recording studios have gone completely digital (rather than continuing to utilize some of the analog technologies listed above). A digital audio workstation (DAW) is basically one computer software package that has the ability to handle the combined tasks of mixing consoles, synthesizers, sound effects devices, and recorders. Popular DAWs include:
- Apple Logic Pro
- Digidesign's Pro Tools
- Adobe Audition, Audacity, and Ardour
- Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo
- Ableton Live
- MOTU Digital Performer
As you are probably beginning to see, there really is no standard, one-size-fits-all music producer job description. The job responsibilities are vast, and determining the area of your strengths and interests can be a big help when it comes to deciding on training and pursuing job opportunities.
What is the Education Needed for a Music Producer Career?
While there is no industry standard when it comes to the education needed for a music producer career, many schools offer programs related to music production and the music business in general.
The music industry is arguably one of the toughest careers to break into. Although many of today's top music producers have no formal education, the industry has continued to become more and more immersed in computer technology—resulting in a greater importance being placed on post-secondary education.
Certificate, diploma, and degree programs exist which can provide you with the skills required for being a music producer. In general, most programs cover:
- Studio recording
- Sound design
- Surround sound techniques
- Recording technologies (analog and digital)
- Audio file management and documentation
- Music composition
- Song arrangement
- Music concepts
- Music genres
Some programs can even provide you with training related to the business side of the music industry. This can include:
- Laws and ethics
- Artist management
- Music booking
- Tour organizing
What Does It Take to Be a Music Producer?
As beneficial as a post-secondary education can be, becoming a music producer takes much, much more than a degree or diploma. Open positions can be few and far between, and the competition for these jobs is fierce. So, aside from education, what does it take to be a music producer?
- Musical Ability—Artists want to work with someone who not only knows the production and technical side of music inside and out, but is also a musician themselves. While the technical aspects of the job are incredibly important, so is the ability to roll up your sleeves and help artists with the actual songwriting, arrangement, and composition—which is difficult, if not impossible, unless you are a musician yourself.
- Ear for Music—While it can be easy to assume that being a musician and having an ear for music is basically the same thing, this is not at all the case. Having skill with sound is light years away from having skill with music, and to be successful you need to have both. The responsibility to ensure that every note of every song has reached as close to perfection as humanly possible is on your shoulders—and this isn't referring to technical perfection. It has to be artistically perfect, meaning that it is as close as possible to replicating an artist's inner creative vision for a song.
- Humility—While it may be an unfair stereotype, arrogance tends to be associated with music producers and musicians alike. Therefore, it's important to go into this career with a good sense of humility. Whether you end up working with an unknown band trying to break into mainstream music, or famous musicians who have already made a name for themselves, you need to create a relationship based on mutual respect. When it comes to producing and recording music, history has shown that it works best to leave all egos at the door and focus on working as a team to capture and protect the integrity of the music.
Even after completing the necessary education, honing the ideal qualities, and gaining experience, it's important to note that the music industry is continually changing and evolving. Everything from new music genres to increasingly sophisticated technologies and equipment can pop up at a surprising speed. Therefore, learning how to become a music producer is a lifelong journey.
How Much is Music Production School?
One of the most common questions about a post-secondary education in music production is "How much is music production school?" There is no standard answer because tuition costs vary depending on the type and length of program you choose. However, the lower end of the scale tends to be around $20,000 or less, while the higher end can be around $45,000 or more.
How Long Does it Take to Complete a Music Production Program?
Just like with tuition, there is no set standard of length for music production programs. Again, it depends on the type of program you choose. Online certificate programs can allow you to graduate within a few months, while a degree program can take from one to four years to complete. If you already have some experience and knowledge, and are simply looking to gain hands-on technical skills, a short-term, career-oriented program could be the right option for you. Or, if you are looking for an in-depth education that covers theoretical, technical, practical, and general business skills, a degree program might be a better fit.
Is Certification Required to Work as a Music Producer?
Certification isn't required to legally work as a music producer in any state. However, if you want to join a professional association related to the music industry, there are various options available to you. The most common associations include:
- The Association of Music Producers (AMP)
- The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
These associations tend to be involved in the industry in various ways, including legal and business aspects such as copywriting, promotion, and sales, as well as the monitoring and review of state and federal policies, laws, and regulations. They also provide members with information, resources, and research related to the music industry.
How Much Do Music Producers Make?
Statistics from a study completed in 2008 place music producers within the broader category of "Musicians and Related Workers."* So, while these stats don't specifically focus on music producers, they can help to provide a general answer to the question "How much do music producers make?"
According to these statistics:
- The median hourly wage is $21.24.
- The lowest 10 percent of the field earn an hourly wage of $7.64.
- The middle 50 percent earn an hourly wage between $11.49 and $36.36.
- The hourly wage for the highest 10 percent is above $59.92.
These statistics help to dispel the assumption that the majority of music producers are fabulously rich. While the most famous and highly sought-after music producers are, in fact, millionaires, it is inaccurate to think that earning this type of extreme music producer salary is the rule, when it is actually the exception. The vast majority of music producers are by no means rich. They enter and stay in the field because of their passion for music, not because they aim to become rich and famous. Therefore, in order to be happy and fulfilled in your career, the job salary for a music producer shouldn't be your main reason for wanting to enter the field.
What is the Job Outlook for Music Producers?
Aside from salary statistics, the 2008 study also showed that the employment rate for musicians, singers, and related workers is expected to grow at an average rate (seven to 13 percent) within the 2008 to 2018 decade. *
However, there is another factor that has a large impact on the job outlook for music producers. That factor is competition. While opportunities are expected to become available at an average rate, the competition for these positions is forecasted as keen—meaning that a higher than average number of applicants are expected to compete for each available position.
How Do I Break into the Music Production Industry?
Even though it can be tough to break into the field of music production, there are factors that can heighten your chances of securing a position. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Get Proactive—If you have trouble securing a paying position, it can be a good idea to focus on gaining experience on your own dollar through volunteering. Consider offering your skills and talent to local musicians by handling the production and recording for free. Not only will you be gaining valuable experience, but also, when an opening becomes available, you can prove to employers that you are committed and passionate about the industry and not just looking to "pay the bills."
- Market Yourself—No matter how talented you are, if no one knows who you are or what you're capable of, your chances of securing employment are slim. This is why self-promotion and marketing can make all the difference. Social media outlets, professional organizations, and networking (word-of-mouth) are just a few of the tools you can take advantage of.
- Work Your Way Up—It can be unrealistic to think that you can enter the field at the top and instantly become an in-demand music producer. It is much more likely and realistic that you will have to start at the bottom of a company and work your way up. Therefore, don't be quick to discount entry-level positions, even if they don't seem to be directly related to music production. Many music producers start off in positions like sound engineer, booking manager, and studio technician—or even extremely unrelated jobs, such as receptionist or office cleaner. It can be hard to stick it out in a seemingly menial job, but "paying your dues" can go a long way in helping you to reach your actual career goals.
- Stay in the Know—By keeping your finger on the pulse of the music industry, you can greatly increase your chances of gaining a career as a music producer. Knowledge is power, so stay on top of music trends by going to a wide variety of shows and concerts and attending industry conventions as much as possible.
Where Do Music Producers Work?
Recording studios and production houses are the most common work environments for music producers. However, opportunities can also be found within settings such as radio and television studios, film companies, and more.
"Music producer" is the most common title for this occupation. However, alternate titles and similar occupations include:
- Recording studio technician
- Recording engineer
- Music editor
- Artist manager
What are the Pros and Cons of Becoming a Music Producer?
Even if you have the skills, the talent, the drive, and the musical passion to make it as a music producer, there will be upsides as well as downsides (as with virtually all careers). Here are some of the pros and cons of becoming a music producer:
- It is an opportunity to work in one of the most sought-after industries in existence.
- You can flex your creative muscle and test the boundaries of your artistic talent.
- It gives you the chance to work as part of a creative team and help musicians reach their full potential.
- You can meet and interact with new people on a regular basis.
- You can have the chance to work with sophisticated and continually evolving technology.
- Breaking into the music industry can be extremely tough.
- Due to the personal nature of creating music, disputes and disagreements can happen frequently over creative differences.
- Expectations are always high, and the general attitude of the industry and the public tends to be that "you are only as good as your last record," making it challenging to create and maintain your reputation.
- Long hours are usually a necessity, and consistent working hours and schedules are virtually non-existent in the industry.
If you are still interested in pursuing a career as a music producer after learning about the various educational and career-related aspects of music production, an ideal first step is to begin researching options for music production schools in your area. This online resource of music production schools, conveniently organized by state, is a great place to start. You can read about a wide variety of music production programs and make requests to receive further information directly from the schools that interest you.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, web site last accessed on Dec. 21, 2011.
The Association of Music Producers (AMP), web site last accessed on Dec. 20, 2011.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), web site last accessed on Dec. 20, 2011.
The American Federation of Musicians (AFM), web site last accessed on Dec. 13, 2011.
The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), web site last accessed on Dec. 13, 2011.